If you know where to go, Mexico City has never had more allure, from the haute cocktail bars and rejuvenated veteran theatre scene of Colonia Juárez to the buzzing food and flower markets of Jamaica.
Published September 7, 2020
• 11 min read
This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Mexico City is now on everyone’s wishlist. Smog, traffic and chaos be damned, after decades of bad press Mexico’s notorious capital is enjoying a visitor boom. And it’s a boom that’s surely sustainable. Mexico has a longstanding tradition of receiving foreigners, and the sunny welcome, even in the frenetic capital, is extraordinary. The charms of the city’s showplace precincts — particularly Condesa and Roma, the Centro and posh Polanco — are often self-evident, but shouldn’t be missed. However, be sure to poke around in other, lesser-known, less-polished barrios: the city’s secret cool. Those who stray from the beaten path will discover welcomes just as warm and revel in the authentic urban adventures they reveal.
“They haven’t been able to completely gentrify it,” says local art historian Aldo Solano, over black coffee at Café La Habana. The circa-1954 diner, all but unchanged since it opened, gained fame as a hangout for local journalists and is where, they say, exiles Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara planned the Cuban Revolution.
Formerly one of Mexico City’s most exclusive districts, post-Second World War ‘progress’ saw the wealthy leave Juárez for newer, more suburban tracts, leaving grand old buildings to languish in subsequent decades; auto parts suppliers and other downmarket retail moved into once-genteel ground floors. In recent years, booming property prices in Condesa and Roma pushed arty youth to Juárez in search of still-affordable vintage digs. These creative newcomers brought on buzzy dining rooms and sleek cafes; the vibe injected new life into a veteran theatre scene.
“There are still people who’ve lived on the same street all their lives,” says Aldo. Unpretentious joints — like dumpy-but-loveable Gabi’s Café, for no-nonsense coffee and newspaper perusal — are hanging in there. “You can live a traditional Mexican and hipster life here,” says resident Mirelle Leider. “It has a kind of a small-town feel where everybody knows everybody.”
The tiny, diamond-shaped quarter is set between nondescript Centro and the flashy trashy Zona Rosa. Benign neglect has conserved numerous fin de siècle mansions and apartment houses topped with turrets and mansard roofs, plus eclectic local touches like blue talavera tile and marvellous double-doored balconies that invite Mexico City’s temperate, sunny weather into high-ceilinged, belle époch parlours. Uncut by major thoroughfares, its streets are quieter, pleasantly shaded by trees.
Plop down at Parker & Lenox, a vintage-look luncheonette, then slip, speakeasy style, through a back door into a dusky, nostalgic jazz cabaret famed for excellent haute coctelerie (fancy cocktails) and live music. Notable dining rooms, like industrial-chic Amaya or the informal but delicious Lucio, draw smart crowds from all over the city. And at much-loved, hard-to-reserve Havre 77, acclaimed chef Lalo García and his team prepare scrumptious French-bistro classics with impeccable local ingredients.
“These darlings were running around the yard this morning,” declares Rufina Yáñez, owner of Mercado Jamaica’s Pollos Yáñez poultry stand, as she lifts a dead bird from a cooler. Her cold-storage system is in fact two defunct refrigerators, lying sideways on an irregular pile of junk. “We kill them early, then bring them in, every day,” she says. The stand is spartan — an oilcloth over a table, chicken viscera galore, comically oversized scissors. Satisfied customer Araceli Piña tells me they’re the freshest birds anywhere in this enormous, working class market. “Come early, they sell out,” she advises.
The small colonia (neighbourhood) known as Jamaica (pronounced ‘ha-MY-ca’, which means ‘hibiscus flower’), just under two miles southeast of downtown, barely extends beyond the hundreds of stalls that make up its market. Visitors who love the exotic food at Mercado San Juan in the historic centre or the homestyle comforts at Mercado Medellín in Roma will fall all the more for Jamaica. This vast food forum offers fruit and vegetables, meats so fresh they’re not refrigerated, cheeses rustic and fine, seafood and practically everything else in between.
The hungry should head to Carnitas Paty, a local landmark for fried-in-lard pork carnitas. They’re served taco-style with onions and coriander or wrapped in butcher paper to go. An army of garrison-capped waiters hustles all day long, fetching customers’ preferred cuts (lean or fatty, organs, entrails, tongue, a nip of skin). You cut the spice with a sweet, tea-like brew called tepache, lightly fermented and served at room temperature. Neophytes start with one dainty glass; I’ve come to love it in half-litre doses.
Duck behind the produce sections to reach Jamaica’s mind-boggling flower market. Dodging carts and avoiding puddles, explore two aisles jammed with gorgeous, multihued roses, daisies, sunflowers, gerberas, birds of paradise, chrysanthemums, irises, lilies — and that’s before you’ve even got to the houseplants. You’ll see everyone from trendy design types to septuagenarian church ladies and just regular joes loading up on blossoms. Spring for a cheap-but-cheerful vase and brighten your hotel room.
Last stop: avocadoes. Next door to a busy stand serving up delicious squash blossom quesadillas (they’re well worth the wait), lies Viviana Quiroz Hernández’s avocado stand. Somewhere in the centre of this labyrinthine market (after numerous visits I still get lost), her table is spread with hundreds of gorgeous, ripe avocadoes. Daughter Lourdes splits open a sampler for potential customers, tossing out the pit and pinching the fruit. Move in for a bite of luscious, creamy flesh; don’t forget the salt. “This is a market unlike any other,” says Lourdes. “It’s a place where generations have built their lives; I grew up among these stalls. I like the solidarity and the tradition.”
Santa María La Ribera
My friend, Mexico City native Jesús Chairez, and I take a Sunday stroll along the Alameda, the tree-lined plaza at the centre of raffish but irresistible Colonia Santa María la Ribera. A mile or so northwest of downtown, the neighbourhood’s streets are lined with a combination of down-at-heel mansions alongside art deco and modernist apartment blocks. Jesús points out the plaza’s famed Kiosco Morisco, a jewel-hued Moorish gazebo that represented Mexico at long-forgotten world’s fairs. No dead relic, today it hosts everything from ballroom dancing and rock gigs to political rallies, rap poetry slams and courting couples. Along the plaza’s edge, crowded sidewalks lead to hipster restaurants plus old standbys, like much-loved Kolobok and its house speciality Russian empanadas. On the western edge of the plaza stands the venerable Museo de Geología, home to dinosaur skeletons, fossils and other curiosities, all displayed in beautiful old-fashioned wood vitrines.
The neighbourhood’s most popular cantina, Salón París, is a glorified proletarian lunchroom. Here, tables are abuzz with every slice of local life. Part of the attraction may be the kitchen’s selection of botanas, surprisingly substantial ‘snacks’ — including Thursday’s succulent chamorro roast pork shank — thrown in for the price of your beer.
The Santa María arts scene is burgeoning at places like the National University’s El Chopo museum, on the district’s eastern edge, a prestigious showcase for the edgiest vanguards. Another standout is Acapulco 62, in the ground floor of a mansion right on the plaza, a new gallery for contemporary painting and photography.
The plaza beckons once more, as the sun sets. Children shriek and scamper, old folks gossip, teenagers flirt or just hang out; an imposing flock of squawking birds roosts for the night in the surrounding trees. No one is in a rush for Monday to come. “I love it here,” says Jesús. “Night or day, seven days a week, there’s always something fabulous to see.”
When in Mexico City
Five-star restaurant Pujol is on every gastronome’s list. Celebrity chef Enrique Olvera applies Nipponese perfection to a dazzling array of flavours and sensations. pujol.com.mx
Despite the city’s infernal traffic, local cyclists rejoice at the bike lanes, which are increasing in number. Best of all are riding Sundays (strolling, skating, dog walking) from 8am to 2pm on stately Paseo de la Reforma.
Don’t miss Diego Rivera’s colossal sculpture of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, at Chapultepec Park’s Cárcamo de Dolores, a newly restored and dazzling mid-century structure that’s both temple and municipal waterworks. Avenida Rodolfo Neri Vela, Chapultepec Park (second section)
Keep your eyes peeled for stands that attract a crush of passers-by. The selection is vast: unending taco varieties, torta-style grilled sandwiches, seafood cocktails, chicken stews and churros both solid and sweet-injected.
Desierto de los Leones National Park, 20 miles southwest of the city centre, is a reserve that surrounds the remains of a colonial-era Discalced Carmelite monastery. Explore the ruins or hike into cool highland glades. Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones; Delegación Álvaro Obregón
How to do it
Journey Latin America offers six days in Mexico City starting from £1,636 per person based on two sharing, including five nights at Hotel Geneve, B&B; a city tour with a visit to the Teotihuacan pyramids; and direct flights from London.
Published in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue ofNational Geographic Traveller (UK)
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A neighbourhood guide to Mexico City? ›
The best places to stay in Mexico City are Condesa, Zona Rosa and Centro Historico. These areas in Mexico City are close to all the activities, have lots of great bars and restaurants, and are super safe.What are the best Neighbourhoods to stay in Mexico City? ›
The best places to stay in Mexico City are Condesa, Zona Rosa and Centro Historico. These areas in Mexico City are close to all the activities, have lots of great bars and restaurants, and are super safe.What is the nicest part of Mexico City? ›
What is the best area of Mexico City? Condesa is the best area in Mexico City, as it's in a prime location right next to Roma, Chapultepec Park, and Bosque de Chapultepec. Many other interesting parts of Mexico City are walkable from Condesa.What is the coolest neighborhood in Mexico City? ›
By far, the coolest neighborhood in Mexico City, La Condesa is trendy, chilled-out, modern, and authentic – filled to the brim with amazing restaurants and cafés (hello, Lardo!), cool bars, hipster coffee shops (like Cucurucho), designer boutiques, bakeries, bookshops, contemporary art galleries, and cute curio shops.What is the safest part of Mexico City? ›
Safe Neighborhoods and Areas in Mexico City
Some of the neighborhoods in Mexico City that are generally safe to explore are Roma Norte/Sur, Condesa, Centro Historico, and Zona Rosa. These are the more touristy spots of the city that travelers tend to feel the most comfortable in.
The city in Mexico considered the safest with the lowest crime rate is Merida, located in Yucatan. It's also one of the most affordable cities in Mexico, making it a popular destination for retirees and expats. Merida's low crime rate makes it an excellent choice for visiting or living.What is the best month to visit Mexico City? ›
The best time to visit Mexico City is between March and May, even though the streets are pretty crowded this time of year. Your trade-off is beautiful weather, especially considering the city's winters can be chilly and the summers can be rainy.How many days do you need in Mexico City? ›
7 days to 14 days in Mexico City is enough to get a good feel for the area. When you're in Mexico City for at least a week, you have enough time to see all the city's big attractions.Is Mexico City a walkable city? ›
Despite its size, Mexico City is relatively easy to navigate, particularly if you stay within the central neighborhoods. Comfortable year-round temperatures make it a great city for walking.Where is the best place for Americans to live in Mexico City? ›
Condesa / Hipodromo
Condesa is one of Mexico City's most sought-after neighborhoods for travelers, expats, digital nomads and visitors, for great reasons. What is this?
Is Uber safe in Mexico City? ›
If you're wondering 'is Uber safe,' the short answer is yes. It's the safest form of car transportation in Mexico City. What is this? Taking a taxi in Mexico City is not the safest idea unless you're familiar with the cab companies and know how to verify that the cab you're getting into can be trusted.Is it better to stay in Condesa or Roma? ›
Though Roma often gets lumped in with La Condesa, it's very much its own place! A super cool neighborhood that's a bit grittier and more alternative than La Condesa, Roma is definitely the best place to stay in Mexico City for hipsters, trendsetters, and those who value the vibe of a neighborhood the most.Where do millionaires live in Mexico City? ›
Polanco is a neighborhood in the Miguel Hidalgo borough of Mexico City. Polanco is an affluent colonia, noted for its luxury shopping along Presidente Masaryk Avenue, the most expensive street in Mexico, as well as for the numerous prominent cultural institutions located within the neighborhood.Which is better Polanco or La Condesa? ›
Both have great options for good restaurants and bars, though Polanco is, generally speaking, more upscale. It has also a lot of fancy shops if you want to spend big money. Also, Polanco is closer to tourists attractions like the Chapultepec museums, for example.Where do the rich live in Mexico City? ›
But the main ones include: Bosque de Lomas, Polanco, and Santa Fe. These three barrios are some of Mexico City's most expensive and safest neighborhoods filled with luxurious apartments and amenities. They are havens for the rich of Mexico City.Is Mexico City safe for Americans? ›
Lopez-Aranda lives in Mexico City, where petty crime is a persistent risk and precautions should be taken, he said, “but the most popular locations are relatively safe for all kinds of travelers.” Journey Mexico has more than 50 employees based in the country who are always monitoring for potential risk, Rabinor said.Is Polanco safe at night? ›
But some areas become unsafe during the night, and we recommend sticking to the safest neighborhoods in Mexico City for nightlife: Polanco, Roma, and La Condesa.Is Chapultepec Park safe at night? ›
Yes — For the majority of travelers, Chapultepec Park is safe. You will, of course, want to stick to designated pathways and remain aware of yourself, your surroundings and your belongings at all times to ensure you stay safe. The park closes at sundown, so you can't be there at night.What areas of Mexico are safe for Americans? ›
- Calakmul (State of campeche)
- Cancun (State of Quintana Roo)
- Los Cabos (State of Baja California Sur)
- Mexico City.
- Monterrey (State of Nuevo Leon)
- Pachuca (State of Hidalgo)
- Puebla (State of Puebla)
- Puerto Escondido (State of Oaxaca)
1. Merida — Safest City in Mexico & Latin America. Merida is a popular tourist destination and expat city, famed for colorful streets and rich Mayan history. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, one of the safest parts of Mexico, Merida consistently ranks as the safest place to travel in Mexico.
Can an American live in Mexico? ›
Yes, you can go all in and decide to make your move to Mexico permanent but there are also lots of other options. Think about the lifestyle you want and what makes the most sense for you and your family. We live in Mexico full-time now.What month is the coldest in Mexico City? ›
Rainy season in Mexico City lasts from May through September. The vast majority of Mexico City's annual average rainfall of 30 to 34 inches falls during these months. During this time, you can expect afternoon or evening showers or thunderstorms, and occasionally even hail storms.How much cash should I bring to Mexico City for a week? ›
A good rule of thumb is to bring 25% of your overall budget in cash to avoid carrying around huge wads of money. What is this? For example, if your daily budget is $50 and you'll be in Mexico for six days, you should plan to bring $60-70 in cash.Do I need a car in Mexico City? ›
In general, Mexico City is not somewhere many people actually want to drive. For these reasons, you'll want to make sure that renting a car in Mexico City is the right decision for you. If not, it's very easy to just Uber around and take public transport.How much money do you need in Mexico City? ›
How much money do you need in Mexico City? You need a budget of about $100 a day for a vacation in Mexico City, although it's absolutely possible to explore Mexico City for way cheaper than this amount. Some people get by on less than $30 a day.What is the most popular way to travel in Mexico City? ›
The best way to get around Mexico City is via Uber or a taxi. The metro is another option. Not only is it fairly clean and quick, but you can ride for approximately $0.25. Plus, most popular tourist attractions are easily accessible by train.Can you get around Mexico City without knowing Spanish? ›
This is a common mistake. Do not assume everyone speaks English because that only happens in some hotels, famous restaurants, and travel agencies. The best thing you can do to prepare is to learn a little Spanish before your trip.What is the richest neighborhood in Mexico City? ›
Mexico City's Polanco is defined by luxury boutiques, fine-dining restaurants, museums, galleries, embassies and high-end hotels. Mexico City's Polanco is defined by luxury boutiques, fine-dining restaurants, museums, galleries, embassies and high-end hotels.Can you live off $1,000 a month in Mexico? ›
In Mexico, you can live a comfortable life on $1,000 a month. The average cost of living for expats, digital nomads and retirees varies between $600 to $2,000 depending on one's lifestyle choices and their location. Baseline costs in Mexico are around $750 a month.
Where do most American retirees live in Mexico? ›
San Miguel de Allende
“Most Americans who choose to retire in Mexico opt for San Miguel Allende,” said John Hubbard, the founder and CEO of Urban Dare. “That's because it offers a temperate climate all year round. Low-cost and high-quality healthcare is also available.
If I retire in Mexico will I lose my social security? No, U.S. citizens can collect social security in Mexico. There are a few countries the U.S. will not send benefits to and your payments are withheld until you return to the US, but Mexico is not one of them.Can you drink water in Mexico City? ›
The Mexico City tap water, like the tap water in the rest of Mexico, isn't considered safe for human consumption. Whether you're in a huge city like Mexico City, big city like Guadalajara or Monterrey, or even a small pueblo magico (magic town) like Valladolid or Valle de Bravo — just don't drink the water in Mexico!.Is it safe to go out at night in Mexico City? ›
Exercise increased caution due to crime. Both violent and non-violent crime occur throughout Mexico City. Use additional caution, particularly at night, outside of the frequented tourist areas where police and security patrol more routinely. Petty crime occurs frequently in both tourist and non-tourist areas.Is it safe to take a taxi from the airport in Mexico City? ›
Is taking a taxi from Mexico City airport safe? Although Mexico City has a bad reputation, taking a taxi from the airport is fairly easy and safe. There are taxi company booths inside the terminals. Walk up to your preferred company and agree a price based on your destination.What is the best street to walk in Condesa? ›
Avenida Mazatlan is a beautiful stretch to walk in the heart of the Condesa area. It's a straight and wide pedestrian path that takes around 25 minutes to walk one way. There are more beautiful buildings, quaint cafes, and lots of cute dogs along the way.What is the best neighborhood to stay in Mexico City Airbnb? ›
Condesa and Roma make the best choices your Mexico City stay because they are both walkable. These two sister neighborhoods in Mexico City also have great cafes, restaurants, bars, beautiful parks, hip street art, amazing boutique shops, and of course, great Mexico City Airbnb options.Where can I walk around Condesa? ›
- 1) Plaza Río de Janeiro. Image Courtesy of Jake Galán.
- 2) Álvaro Obregón Avenue, Casa Lamm. Image Courtesy of Jake Galán / Corredor Cultural Roma Condesa.
- 3) El Parián Commercial Passage. ...
- 4) Álvaro Obregón Avenue. ...
- 5) Álvaro Obregón Avenue. ...
- 6) Plaza Popcatépetl. ...
- 7) Ámsterdam Avenue. ...
- 8) Ámsterdam Avenue.
Annual pre-tax income needed to be in the top 10%: $51,709
As of March 2021, Mexico had an unemployment rate of 4.43%.
According to Forbes Mexico, anyone earning over MX$38,000 or US$1,900 per month belongs to the top 1% of earners in the country.
Is Polanco in Mexico City Safe? ›
You can find more than 10 parks in Polanco, all are family friendly, safe and with many pretty spaces. Because Polanco is a really nice area, you don´t have to worry about walking alone in the night, in fact, most of the residents and tourists in this area use the local bike network or walk.Is Polanco safe to walk? ›
Polanco Quick Facts
Although Mexico City is safe, Polanco is considered one of the safest of all its neighborhoods.
7 answers. Centro Historico is not that close from Condesa neighbourhood, it will take you around 25-30 mins to get there in a car. Other transportation you can take is the metro, very cheap and easy to use. For walking distance we would recommend wander around Condesa neighbourhood or Roma neighbourhood as well.What is the luxury street in Mexico City? ›
The Avenida Masaryk is home to the most luxurious brands in fashion including Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermès, Gucci… but that's not all!What is the most liveable city in Mexico? ›
- Mexico City – The Place That Has It All.
- Mérida – Quiet Warmth and Beauty. ...
- Guadalajara – Affordable City and Retiree Living. ...
- Monterrey – Mexico's Hardest Working City. ...
- San Miguel de Allende – Loved by Expats and Visitors. The town of San Miguel de Allende is in Mexico's central heart. ...
In the more upscale neighborhoods, such as Polanco, renting a one-bedroom apartment can average around $1,200 USD per month, while a two-bedroom apartment might range between $1,800 USD and $2,500 USD per month.What is the most hipster neighborhood in Mexico City? ›
Colorful Roma is the hipster heart of Mexico City. Just west of Centro Historico and hugging the eastern edge of the Condesa neighborhood, Roma is the perfect place to stay in if you're looking to shop at cute boutiques, sip incredibly good coffee, and enjoy close proximity to many of Mexico City's biggest attractions.Is it safe to walk in Polanco? ›
You can find more than 10 parks in Polanco, all are family friendly, safe and with many pretty spaces. Because Polanco is a really nice area, you don´t have to worry about walking alone in the night, in fact, most of the residents and tourists in this area use the local bike network or walk.What is the most luxurious neighborhood in Mexico City? ›
There are many different neighborhoods that would be considered luxurious in Mexico City. But the main ones include: Bosque de Lomas, Polanco, and Santa Fe. These three barrios are some of Mexico City's most expensive and safest neighborhoods filled with luxurious apartments and amenities.How many nights is enough in Mexico City? ›
7 days to 14 days in Mexico City is enough to get a good feel for the area. When you're in Mexico City for at least a week, you have enough time to see all the city's big attractions.
How do you get around Mexico City without a car? ›
The best way to get around Mexico City is via Uber or a taxi. The metro is another option. Not only is it fairly clean and quick, but you can ride for approximately $0.25. Plus, most popular tourist attractions are easily accessible by train.Where do most expats live in Mexico City? ›
Condesa is one of Mexico City's most sought-after neighborhoods for travelers, expats, digital nomads and visitors, for great reasons.What is the most visited city in Mexico by Americans? ›
Cancun is one of the most well-known destinations in Mexico for American tourists, but other popular destinations include Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and Mexico City.What is the number one tourist city in Mexico? ›
1. Cancun. What is this? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cancun is America's favorite destination in all of Mexico.